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Notes on Bhagavad Gita
Bhagavad Gita with the commentary of Sri Sankaracharya
Translated by Alladi Mahadeva Sastry
When owing to the ascendancy of lust in its votaries, religion was overpowered by irreligion caused by the vanishing faculty of discrimination and irreligion was advancing - it was then that the original Creator (Adi-kartri), Vishnu, known as Narayana, wishing to maintain order in the universe, incarnated Himself as Krishna, begotten in Devaki by Vasudeva, for the preservation of the 'earthly Brahman' of spiritual life on the earth. For it was by the preservation of spiritual life that the Vedic Religion could be preserved, since thereon depend all distinctions of caste and religious order. The Lord, always possessed as He is of (infinite) knowledge, supremacy, power, strength, might and vigour, controls the Maya - belonging to Him as Vishnu - the Mulaprakriti, the First Cause, composed of three Gunas or energies and He appears to the world as though He is born and embodied and helping the world at large; whereas really He is unborn and indestructible, is the Lord of creatures and is by nature Eternal, Pure, Intelligent and Free.
This famous Gita-Sastra is an epitome of the essentials of the whole Vedic teaching.
The aim of this famous Gita-Sastra is, briefly, the Supreme Bliss, a complete cessation of samsara or transmigratory life and of its cause. This accrues from that Religion (Dharma) which consists in a steady devotion to the knowledge of the Self, preceded by the renunciation of all works.
Though the Religion of Works - which, as a means of attaining worldly prosperity, is enjoined on the several castes and religious orders - leads the devotee to the region of the Devas and the like, still, when practised in a spirit of complete devotion to the Lord and without regard to the results, it conduces to the purity of the mind. The man whose mind is pure is competent to tread the path of knowledge and to him comes knowledge; and thus (indirectly) the Religion of Works forms also a means to the Supreme Bliss.
The Gita Sastra expounds this twofold Religion, whose aim is the Supreme Bliss. It expounds specially the nature of the Supreme Being and Reality known as Vasudeva, the Parabrahman, who forms the subject of the discourse. Thus the Gita-Sastra treats of a specific subject with a specific object and bears a specific relation. A knowledge of its teaching leads to the realisation of all human aspirations.
Sankara's Commentary on Gita:
In all the Upanishads, in the Itihasas, in the Puranas and in the Yoga-Sastra, renunciation of all karma is enjoined on the seeker of moksha as an accessory to knowledge. Both in the Sruti and in the Smriti, a gradual passage (through the three orders to the fourth order) is enjoined, as well as a sudden jump (from any one of the three to the fourth order).
["On the completion of the student-life one should become an house-holder; then leaving home he should become a forest-dweller and then retire from the world. Or he may retire from the world when he is yet a student, or retire from house or from the forest, whether he is engaged in austerities or not, whether he has completed or not student's career, whether he has quenched the sacrificial fires or not. In short the very day on which he may get disgusted with the world, the same day he should retire from it." - Jabala Upanishad 4]
["Having given up all desire for progeny, for wealth and for the world, they lead a mendicant life." - Bri. Up. III-5-1]
["Wherefore, of these austerities, renunciation, they say, is excellent." "Renunciation alone excelled." - Taittiriya Up. IV-78, 79]
["Not by action, not by progeny, not by wealth, but by renunciation, some attained immortality." - Taittiriya Up. IV-12]
["Give up religion, give up irreligion. Give up truth, give up untruth. Having given up both truth and un-truth, give up that by which you give them up."
"Finding the samsara (mundane existence) worthless and wishing to get at the essence, the unmarried grow quite weary of life and renounce the world." - Brihaspati (Smriti)]
[Suka - "By action a person is bound and by wisdom he is released. Therefore, the sages who see the goal do no action." - Santiparva, Mokshadharma 241-7]
Even dharma is a sin - in the case of him who seeks liberation - in as much as it causes bondage.
According to our view, when the Kshetrajnas become one with the Lord, then let the Sastra serve no purpose. It has, however, a purpose to serve where there is Avidya. Just as, with the dualists (Dvaitins) of all classes, the Sastra has a purpose to serve only in the state of bondage but not in the state of liberation, so with us also.
The Sastra is concerned with the ignorant who view things as they present themselves to their consciousness. - It is, indeed, the ignorant who identify themselves with the cause and effect, with the not-Self. But not the wise; for these latter do not identify themselves with the cause and the effect, since they know that the Self is distinct from the cause and the effect. Not even the dullest or the most insane person regards water and fire, or light and darkness, as identical; how much less a wise man. Wherefore, the injunctions and prohibitions of the Sastra do not apply to him who knows the Self to be distinct from the cause and the effect.
It is only after having duly observed the injunctions and prohibitions of the Sastra - but not before - that a person attains to the knowledge that the Self is quite unconnected with causes and effects. Hence the conclusion that the injunctions and prohibitions of the Sastra concern only the ignorant.
Performance of enjoined acts and abstention from prohibited acts are possible in the case of those who know of the Self only through the Scriptures - He who knows Brahman and has realised the identity of the Kshetrajna with the Lord does not certainly engage in the Vedic rites. Neither does the person who denies the existence of the Self and of the other world engage in such rites. But, he who derives his idea of the Self only from the scriptural injunctions - ie., who believes in the existence of the Self because the teaching of the Sastra enjoining certain actions and prohibiting (certain others) would otherwise be inexplicable, but who does not directly know the Self in His essential nature - cherishes a longing for the results of the Vedic rites and devoutly performs them; a fact which is evident to us all. Wherefore, it cannot be said that the Sastra would have no purpose to serve.
Very rare is the person who attains wisdom. It is, indeed, only one among many that attains wisdom. As we now see. Nor do the ignorant follow the wise men; for attachment and other evil passions necessarily lead to action.
Samsara is only based on Avidya and exists only for the ignorant man who sees the world as it appears to him. Neither Avidya nor its effect pertains to Kshetrajna pure and simple. Nor is illusory knowledge able to affect the Real Thing.
When the man who is qualified for Karma Yoga performs obligatory works without attachment and without a longing for results, his inner sense unsoiled by desire for results and regenerated by the performance of obligatory works, become pure. When pure and tranquil, the inner sense is fit for contemplation of the Self.
What is necessary is the mere elimination of the not-Self associated with the Self - names, forms and the like; but it is unnecessary to try and teach what the consciousness of the Self is like, inasmuch as it is invariably comprehended in association with all objects of perception which are set up by avidya.
Therefore we have only to eliminate what is falsely ascribed to Brahman by Avidya; we have to make no more effort to acquire a knowledge of Brahman as He is quite self-evident. Though thus quite self-evident easily knowable, quite near and forming the very Self, Brahman appears - to the unenlightened, to those whose reason (Buddhi) is carried away by the differentiated phenomena of names and forms created by Avidya - as unknown, difficult to know, very remote, as though He were a separate thing. But to those whose reason (Buddhi) has turned away from external phenomena, who have secured the grace of the Guru and attained the serenity of the self (manas), there is nothing else so blissful, so well-known, so easily knowable and quite so near as Brahman. Accordingly, the knowledge of Brahman is said to be immediately comprehended and unopposed to dharma (ix-2).
It is only a cessation of the perception of the differentiated forms of the external world that can lead to a firm grasp of the real nature of the Self.
Knowledge alone can cause total destruction of good or evil deeds caused by Avidya - not the performance of the nitya-karma. For, avidya and kama (nescience and desire) constitute the seed of all action.
Right knowledge conduces to absolute cessation of samsara.